- Author: Samuel R. Delany
Read book online «The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany (best fantasy books to read .txt) 📕». Author - Samuel R. Delany
ACE BOOKS, INC.
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THE JEWELS OF APTOR
Copyright ©, 1962, by Ace Books, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Printed in U.S.A.
of double sleeplessness. Along the piers
the ships return; but sailing I would go
through double rings of fire, double fears.
So therefore let your bright vaults heave the night
about with ropes of wind and points of light,
and say, as all the rolling stars go, "I
have stood my feet on rock and seen the sky."
—These are the opening lines from The Galactica, by the one-armed poet Geo, the epic of the conflicts of Leptar and Aptor.PROLOGUE
Afterwards, she was taken down to the sea.
She didn't feel too well, so she sat on a rock down where the sand was wet and scrunched her bare toes in and out of the cool surface.
She turned away, looked toward the water, and hunched her shoulders a little. "I think it was awful," she said. "I think it was pretty terrible. Why did you show it to me? He was just a little boy. What reason could they have possibly had for doing that to him?"
"It was just a film," he said. "We showed it to you so you would learn."
"But it was a film of something that really happened."
"It happened several years ago, several hundred miles away."
"But it did happen; you used a tight beam to spy on them, and when the image came in on the vision screen, you made a film of it, and—But why did you show it to me?"
"What have we been teaching you?"
But she couldn't think, and only had the picture in her mind, vivid movements, scarlets, and bright agony. "He was just a child," she said. "He couldn't have been more than eleven or twelve."
"You are just a child," he said. "You are not sixteen yet."
"What was I supposed to learn?"
"Look around you," he said. "You should see something."
But the picture in her mind was still too vivid, too bright.
"You should be able to learn it right here on this beach, in the trees back there, in the rocks, in the bleached shells around your feet. You do see it; you just don't recognize it." Suddenly he changed his tone. "Actually you're a very fine student. You learn quickly. Do you remember anything about telepathy? You studied it months ago."
"'By a method similar to radio broadcast and reception,'" she recited, "'the synapse patterns of conscious thoughts are read from one cranial cortex and duplicated in another, resulting in similar sensual impressions experienced—'" Suddenly she broke off. "But I can't do it, so it doesn't help me any!"
"What about history, then?" he said. "You did extremely well during the examination. What good does knowing about all the happenings in the world before and after the Great Fire do you?"
"Well, it's ..." she started. "It's just interesting."
"The film you saw," he said, "was, in a way, history. That is, it happened in the past."
"But it was so—" Again she stopped. "—horrible!"
"Does history fascinate you because it's just interesting?" he asked. "Or does it do something else? Don't you ever want to know what the reason is behind some of the things these people do in the pages of the books?"
"Yes, I want to know the reasons," she said. "Like I want to know the reason they nailed that man to the oaken cross. I want to know why they did that to him."
"A good question," he mused. "Which reminds me, at about the same time as they were nailing him to that cross, it was decided in China that the forces of the universe were to be represented by a circle, half black, half white. But to remind themselves that there was no pure force, no purely unique reason, they put a spot of white paint in the black half and a spot of black paint in the white. Isn't that interesting?"
She looked at him and wondered how he had gotten from one to the other. But he was going on.
"And do you remember the goldsmith, the lover, how he recorded in his autobiography that at age four, he and his father saw the Fabulous Salamander on their hearth by the fire; and his father suddenly smacked the boy ten feet across the room into a rack of kettles, saying something to the effect that little Cellini was too young to remember the incident unless some pain accompanied it."
"I remember that story," she said. "And I remember that Cellini said that he wasn't sure if the smack was the reason he remembered the Salamander, or the Salamander the reason he remembered the smack."
"Yes, yes!" he cried. "That's it. The reason, the reasons ... Don't you see the pattern?"
"Only I don't know what a Salamander is," she told him.
"Well, it's like the blue lizards that sing outside your window sometimes," he explained. "Only it isn't blue, and it doesn't sing."
"Then why should anyone want to remember it?" she grinned. It was an attempt to annoy him, but he was not looking at her, and was talking of something else.
"And the painter," he was saying, "he was a friend of Cellini, you remember, in Florence. He was painting a picture of "La Gioconda." As a matter of fact, he had to take time from the already crumbling picture of "The Last Supper" of the man who was nailed to the cross of oak to paint her. And he put a smile on her face of which men asked for centuries, 'What is the reason she smiles so strangely?' Yes, the reason, don't you see? Just look around."
"What about the Great Fire?" she asked. "When they dropped flames from the skies and the harbors boiled, that was reasonless. That was like what they did to that boy."
"Oh no," he said to her. "Not reasonless. True, when the Great Fire came, people all over the earth screamed, 'Why? Why? How can man do this to man? What is the reason?' But just look around you, right here. On this beach."
"I guess I can't see it yet," she said. "I can just see what they did to him, and it was awful."
"Well," said the man in the dark robe, "perhaps when you stop seeing what they did so vividly, you will start seeing why they did it. I think it's time for us to go back now."
As she slid off the rock and started walking beside him, barefooted in the sand, she asked, "That boy—I wasn't sure, he was all tied up, but he had four arms, didn't he?"
"You know, I can't just go around saying it was awful. I think I'm going to write a poem. Or make something. Or both. I've got to get it out of my head."
"That wouldn't be a bad idea," he mumbled as they approached the trees in front of the river. "Not at all."
And several days later, and several hundred miles away ...CHAPTER I
Waves flung themselves at the blue evening. Low light burned on the wet hulks of ships that slipped by mossy pilings into the docks as water sloshed at the rotten stone embankment of the city.
Gangplanks, chained from wooden pullies, scraped into place on concrete blocks, and the crew, after the slow captain and the tall mate, descended raffishly along the wooden boards which sagged with the pounding of bare feet. In bawling groups, pairs, or singly they howled into the narrow waterfront streets, into the yellow light from open inn doors, the purple shadowed portals leading to dim rooms full of blue smoke and stench of burnt poppies.
The captain, with eyes the color of sea under fog, touched his sword hilt with his fist and said quietly to the mate, "Well, they're gone. We better start collecting new sailors for the ten we lost at Aptor. Ten good men, Jordde. I'm sick when I think of the bone and broken meat they became."
"Ten for the dead," sneered the mate, "and twenty for the living we'll never see again. Any sailor that would want to continue this trip with us is insane. We'll do well if we only lose that many." He was a tall, wire bound man, which made the green tunic he wore look baggy.
"I'll never forgive her for ordering us to that monstrous island," said the captain.
"I wouldn't speak too loudly," mumbled the mate. "Yours isn't to forgive her. Besides, she went with them, and was in as much danger as they were. It's only luck she came back."
Suddenly the captain asked, "Do you believe the sailor's stories of magic they tell of her?"
"Why, sir?" asked the mate. "Do you?"
"No, I don't," said the captain with a certainty that came too quickly. "Still, with three survivors out of thirteen, that she should be among them, with hardly a robe torn."
"Perhaps they wouldn't touch a woman," suggested the mate, Jordde.
"Perhaps," said the captain.
"And she's been strange," continued Jordde, "ever since then. She walks at night. I've seen her going by the rails, looking from the sea-fire to the stars, and then back."
"Ten good men," mused the captain. "Hacked up, torn in bits. I wouldn't have believed that much barbarity in the world, if I hadn't seen that arm, floating on the water. It gives me chills now, the way the men ran to the rail to see, pointed at it. And it just raised itself up, like a beckoning, a signal, and then sank in a wash of foam and green water."
"Well," said the mate, "we have men to get."
"I wonder if she'll come ashore?"
"She'll come if she wants, Captain. Her doing is no concern of yours. Your job is the ship and to do what she says."
"I have more of a job than that," and he looked back at his still craft.
The mate touched the captain's shoulder. "If you're going to speak things like that, speak them softly, and only to me."
"I have more of a job than that," the captain repeated. Then, suddenly, he started away, and the mate was following him down the darkening dockside street.
The dock was still for a moment. Then a barrel toppled from a pile of barrels, and a figure moved like a bird's shadow across the opening between mounds of cargo set about the pier.
At the same time two men approached down a narrow street filled with the day's last light. The bigger one threw a great shadow that aped his gesticulating arms behind him on the greenish faces of the buildings. Bare feet like halved hams, shins bound with thongs and pelts, he waved one hand in explanation, while he rubbed the back of the other on his short, mahogany beard.
"You're going to ship out, eh friend? You think they'll take your rhymes and jingles instead of muscles and rope pulling?"
The smaller, in a white tunic looped with a thick leather belt, laughed beneath his friend's rantings. "Fifteen minutes ago you thought it was a fine idea; said it would make me a man."
"Oh, it's a life to make," his hand went up, "and it's a life to break men," and it fell.
The slighter one pushed back black hair from his forehead, stopped, and looked at the ships. "You still haven't told me why no ship has taken you on in the past three months," he said absently, following the rope rigging against the sky like black knife slashes on blue silk. "A year ago I'd never see you in for more than three days at once."
The gesticulating arm suddenly encircled the smaller man's waist and lifted a leather pouch from the wide belt. "Are you sure, friend Geo," began the giant, "that we couldn't use up some of this silver on wine before we go. If you want to do this right, then right is how it should be done. When you sign up on a ship you're supposed to be broke and a little tight. It shows that you're capable of getting along without the inconvenience of money and can hold your liquor, too."
"Urson, get your paw off that." Geo snatched the purse away.
"Now here," countered Urson, reaching for it once more, "you don't have to grab."
"Look, I've kept you drunk five nights now, and it's time to sober up. And suppose they don't take us, who's